Thursday, February 16, 2012: Around 7 people were seated in the large community center of John Westley Church on Quincy Street, waiting for a meeting scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m.
But already, it was 6:45, and still about 53 chairs sat empty.
Congressional representatives, press, hundreds of residents and the management of the Norgate Plaza, a Section-8 apartment complex located at 390 Nostrand Avenue, were invited to the Thursday night tenant association meeting, as dissatisfaction among the building’s tenants with Norgate’s manager, Nixon Chanoine and his employer Essex Plaza Management Associates, had finally reached a boiling point.
Alejandra Cuevas, one of the event’s organizers, paced nervously about the long snack table, arranging and then re-arranging the forks and plates and napkins. It seemed Cuevas’ greatest fear – that tenants would skip the meeting to avoid a backlash from management – might actually come true.
“Ay, nobody is coming,” she turned suddenly and whispered to a friend in Spanish. “I feel awful, all of this food. I want to cry. We worked so hard to get the word out and…”
Before she could finish her sentence, three more people strolled in. Behind them was another, Nancy Ramos, special assistant to Congressman Ed Towns. Cuevas waved across the room to someone carrying a bowl of wrapped hard candy, and together the two of them rushed over to greet the latest guests.
Then a group of about five walked in, followed by another five and two large families including their young children. Cuevas perked up. Edna Johnson, the Congressman’s other special assistant, also joined the meeting, along with Diane DMeza who, with Cuevas, organized the evening’s meeting.
Finally, Ramos took to the podium: “I’ve read about some of your issues with management,” she said. “But this is my first time meeting with any of you. So what I need from you guys today is to just tell me everything. Tell me what you’re experiencing, and I’m going to take notes and see how we can address them with the Congressman’s help.”
One by one, tenants stood up and complained about mice, rats, bedbugs, a need for better security, leaks, unfair building policies, and management that chides them, intimidates them and ignores their needs.
“We wanted to hold this meeting in the community room of our own building,” said one tenant. “But [the manager] kept coming up with reasons of why we couldn’t hold our meeting there.”
Another tenant talked about how he got his one-bedroom apartment at Norgate in 2009. He desperately need a place to live for his two young girls, and accepted the apartment but immediately requested to be placed on the wait list for a bigger space, because his wife would be joining the family soon.
Three years later, his wife has joined them, and he has languished on a waiting list, while, he claims, new and old tenants move in and out of the building every few months. His girls are now 11 and 12. The four of them sleep in one bedroom, and his wife is now expecting another child.
“No one can ever move, because the manager always tells us there’s a wait list, there’s a wait list,” said another elderly tenant. “But never has he ever shown anyone this waitlist, or where they stand on it.”
Edna Johnson, shook her head. She’d been down this road before with Norgate’s tenants, a year ago, when they reached out to her for help with the building’s elevators.
According to reports in a Daily News article, tenants at Norgate, a nine-story building, went from November 2010 until February 2011 with a broken elevator while management ignored their complaints. Some of the building’s elderly and disabled tenants even had to call the fire department for help getting up the stairs.
At that time, Johnson arranged for a meeting with Congressman Towns and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and within weeks secured a brand-new elevator.
“When this group came to see me the first time, I knew some of the complaints were because of Mr. Nixon. He just doesn’t want to listen,” Johnson told Bed-Stuy Patch at the meeting. “He doesn’t care about these people. I don’t care who you are and what kind of job you have, when you’re dealing with people in that kind of environment, you’ve got to care. You have to treat them like they’re human beings.”
One by one, each tenant stood up at Thursday’s meeting and expressed their frustration with their living conditions. The chairs were still more than half-empty, but it didn’t matter, because the volume of complaints was enough to fill a stadium.
“Everybody in public housing seems to be having problems right now,” said Johnson. “They’re having problems with the on-sight manager. There are problems with recertification, waiting lists... And you know what? It’s across the board.”
Johnson said, following Thursday’s meeting, she and Ramos planned to set up a meeting with Essex Management Company and the Congressman.
“I’ve given [Mr. Nixon] my card, I’ve called him several times. And he’s never responded, not once. So maybe he’ll respond to the Congressman.”
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